This document is taken from two sources "The
Orders and Medals of The Communist Governments of Indochina"
John Sylvester Jr.
And the official document published by the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam's Institute of Orders (Vien Huan Chuong).
A History of the Democratic/socialist
Republic of Vietnam, and Marxist Unification.
The communist in vietnam resembled many others among the Vietnamese
nationlist in that they took their creed from abroad - in this
case from Leninism. Ho chi Minh over the years built a disciplined
and purposeful organization that broke its nationalist opponents,
outlasted the French and Americans, and finally unified Indochina
under its control.
Ho Chi Minh returned from the USSR in 1925 with Borodin's mission
to China in order to form a communist movement in Indochina, called
first the Revolutionary Youth League and later in 1930 the Indochinese
Communist Party. The party in 1930 led a peasant uprising in the
central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh and created village "soviets"
which were soon crushed by the French military. The party returned
to clandestinity. It built a first guerilla base in upland Cao
Bang and Bac Son, participating in an abortive-uprising in the
fall of 1940. In May 1941 the party formed a broad united front
called the League for the Indepedence of Vietnam (Vietnam Doc-Lap
Dong-Minh Hoi, or in short, the Viet Minh). (The term Viet Cong,
the contraction for Vietnamese communist, was later used by opponents
more with the implication of the southern arm of the movement).
The party carefully refrained from challenging the Japanese,
and prepared for the day of Japan's defeat. After the French were
interned in March 1945 and the Japanese conceded defeat on August
16, the party moved to seize the opportunity. Armed Propaganda
Teams demonstrated across the country. On September 2, 1945, the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam was proclaimed and the flag of
a five pointed yellow star on a red field was hoisted. Ho Chi
Minh became the president of the Provisional People's Government.
The Viet Minh moved to mollify the Chinese occupiers, keep out
the French and destroy such native rivals as the VNQDD and Trotskyites.
The Viet Minh did well in consolidating its position except in
the south, where they faced the opposition of the sects and the
British and French forces. In March 6, 1946, agreement, the French
government, "recognized the Republic of Vietnam as a free
state which has its own governmment, parliament, army, and finances
and which is part of the Indochinese Federation and the French
Union." (But a seperate French controlled Republic of Cochinchina
was proclaimed June 1, 1948, with a flag of three horizontal blue
stripes on yellow.) Although the French even for a short while
helped the Viet Minh combat its nationlist rivals, French policy
hardened, particularly as carried out on the scene by Admiral
d' Argenlieu. In concert, the Viet Minh took a harsher line, for
instance, holding public ceremonies where citizens burned their
French diplomas and destroyed their French medals.
The communist army claims its official orgin in the first "Platoon
of National Salvation" formed in the 1940 uprising. In December
1944 Ho Chi Minh created the "Vietnamese People's Propaganda
Unit for National Liberation," which became in September
1945, with the new republic, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN).
Under the capable General Vo Nguyen Giap the PAVN was built quickly
using the concept of a people's war, arms of varied orgin, and
a balance of political indoctrination and military professionalism.
by 1946 it had about 100,000 men under arms, plus 35,000 paramilitary,
and it continued to expand steadily thereafter. It fought with
both great courage and heavy casualties, taking at times beatings
from the French forces, but also securing major victories at Cao
Bang in 1950, over Group Mobile 100 in 1953, and finally at Dien
Bien Phu in 1954. The divisions then consisted of the 304th, 308,
312th, 316th, and 320th, and the 351st Heavy Division.
The Indochinese Communist Party, following recongnition by Peking
and Moscow of the DRV in 1950, abandoned its clandestinity and
changed its name to the Vietnam Workers Party (Dan Lao-Dong Vietnam).
with the partition of Vietnam at the 17th parallel as a result
of the Geneva agreements, the DRV gained full territoral control
of the north. As its soldiers and cadre were "regrouped"
to the north, the DRV apparently abandoned its position in the
south pending unification of the country under an election to
be held according to the terms of the agreement. The election
was never held, Diem believing the communists would not tolerate
any true one. As the Diem government unexpectedly reduced the
chaos of the south and gained control, the communist had to rethink
their strategy for the south. They initially, however, were preoccupied
with building their own system in the north, partly through the
brutal purges of the "land reform" program.
Starting in 1959 several thousand of the "regroupees"
southern cadre were again sent to the south and there began again
the effort to achieve "a general uprising". There was
then announced a purportedly seperate party for the south, the
People's Revolutionary Party (Dang Nhan-Dan Cach-Mang), and a
broader front organization the National Front for the Liberation
of South Vietnam-NLF (Mat-Tran Dan-Toc Giai-Phong Mien-Nam). Control
was retained in Hanoi and discipline over the southerners ensured
by the security apparatus. The flag of the NLF was half red, half
light blue with a gold star in the center, close to that of the
DRV. In December 1963 the Ninth Conference of the Central Executive
Committee made the decision for a full effort to take the south,
and the Second Indochina War commenced in earnest.
In 1957 the PAVN had been systematically modernized on the Soviet
model. Previously officers were designated by function, such as
battalion commander, and had no rank and wore no insignia. Following
a 1958 law, ranks were established and insignia and epaulets worn.
The PAVN soldiers and units sent to the south, in order to maintain
the pretense of a separate southern movement, used the functional
rank designations of the People's Liberation Armed Force of South
Vietnam (PLAF) and their more modest insignia and decorations.
Military operations in central Vietnam, however, were controlled
directly from the north, and that area was divided into four tactical
zones: the CMA Front, Military Region Tri Thien Hue, Military
Region 5 below on the coast, and the B-3 Front inland. Military
operations further south were controlled by the Central Office
for South Vietnam (COSVN), located usually on the Cambodian border
directly north of Saigon.
After the "Special war" of 1961-63 against the strategic
hamlet program and the shaky ARVN, the communist forces then challenged
in "armed struggle" the entering American units. Local
guerilla and regional forces were intended to provide a "seething
quality in the coordinated struggle", while the main forces
carried out "annihilating blows" that would cause "turning
points in the war." Put on the defensive by the hard pressing
American units, the communists husbanded their forces for a major
offensive during Tet 1968. They achieved the desired surprize
in attack, and impetus to the antiwar movement in the US, but
the southern communist units were so heavily blooded that thereafter
the southern communists had little role in the war. The PLAF divisions,
the 3rd, 5th and 9th, were largely thereafter staffed by PAVN
soldiers infiltrated down the impressive road supply network from
the north. The DRV did not acknowledge its direct involvement
in the war in the south, and unit desifnations were camouflaged.
A COSVN directive of early 1971 called for continuing attacks
to achieve "piecemeal" victories and to defeat pacification
and Viernamization. While achieving on the ground no real victories
against the US forces, the communists kept the blood flowing and
the bulk of their forces safe in Cambodia. They caused the Americans,
just like the French, to grow tired of the political burden and
to abandon the war. In January 1973 there were some 220,000 PAVN
troops in the south comprising 15 infantry divisions and many
independent infantry, sapper, artillery, armor, anti-aircraft
regiments, the rear service and other units. Five divisions (304,
312, 320B, 324B and 325) were north of the Hai Van Pass in MR-
I and two were south (711 and 2nd). In MR-2 there were three divisions
(3rd, 1oth, and 320); in MR-3 two (7th and 9th); and in MR-4 three
(1st, 5th and 6th). Other divisions were in the north and Laos.
In the 1973 Paris accord the US gained its prisoners back, but
did not get the communist to withdraw their forces from the south.
The DRV got the US out of Vietnam, but did not get the US to pull
down Thieu and the Republic of Vietnam as it left. But the Provisional
Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam (PRG)
did gain status from its participation in the talks. With President
Nixon's political collapse, US pledges of continued support for
the Republic of Vietnam proved false. The spurious peace disappeared.
By 1975 the PAVN was better armed by the Soviets and Chinese than
the ARVN was by the US. It also had far more maneuverable battalions.
In the major offensive of 1975 the ARVN fell apart and "unification"
was achieved. It was a victory of the main force PAVN units, manifested
in the Saigon victory parade in May which featured bemedaled.
brass bands, tanks, SAM missiles, and only a few southern guerillas.
Victory was also celebrated by the elevation of the name of the
state to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the party to the
Vietnam Communist Party (Dang Cong-San Vietnam). The PRG disappeared
with the formal unification of the country.
The aftermath was disappointing to the communist. Hanoi could
manage war, but not peace, and certainly not an economy. The attractions
of the rich south, moreover, corrupted veteran cadra; the southerners
were resentful of northern control; and a major border war developed
with the vicious Khmer Rouge. This was complicated by a deepening
quarrel with China, which was angered over Vietnam's proud and
ungrateful attitude and deepening ties with the USSR. The PAVN
was expanded to some 33 infantry, 12 economic construction, and
6 engineer divisions. In January 1978 it blitzkrieged Democratic
Kampuchea but had to leave there for the protection of its client
state the 5th, 302nd, 307th, 309th, and part of the 950th divisions.
The border war of February-March 1978 with China was a standoff,
although the Vietnamese second line border units fought well.
The SRV was the most formidable military power of Southeast Asia,
but also isolated, improverished, and heavily dependent on Soviet
Later, tiring of the quagmire in Cambodia and of the economic
and diplomatic costs of its intervention there, Hanoi reluctantly
and gradually pulled its forces out, leaving the problem to the
United Nations. with the distressing collapse of communism in
East Europe and the Soviet Union, Hanoi cautiously mended its
relations with Beijing. They remained divided over the rancor
of history and competing territorial claims on the border and
the South china Sea. But they shared interest as two of the only
four remaining communist states. Moreover, the SRV, just as the
PRC, was proceeding with economic libeeralization, while resisting
political liberalization. As fears by its ASEAN neighbord, the
international community, and even the US.
The Medals: The Vietnamese communist movement began as a revolutionary
political and partisan movement with the formal simplicity that
implies. But it was also influenced by the French and Soviet experience,
and that led to the adoption of a system of decoration and medals.
Chairman Ho Chi Minh on January 26th, 1946, promulgated a decree
listing ten categories of people who deserved awards, including
those who had sacrificed for the country, saved lives, and those
who contributed three children to the forces. According to information
from prisoners and from examples found on the batttlefiels, medals
were first awarded to communist combatants and sympathizers at
the end of 1947. The decorations were often presented as collective
or unit awards. A unit receiving the Southern medal would be presented
the accompanying appellation "Valiant Unit in the Annihilation
of Americans." A company sized unit, for instance, would
be eligible for this for destroying supposedly two US platoons
in a single battle. Examples of other unit awards mentioned by
Hanoi radio include the Ho Chi Minh Order 3rd class given to the
Engineer Corps command on the 25th anniversary of its founding,
March 25, 1980; and the Labor Medal First Class given to the Cadre
of Nghia Binh province, March 30, 1978 for combatting illiteracy.
Units as well as individuals, could be promoted after successes
to a higher class award. Unit awardsmight be indicated by the
presentation of a red banner with an appropriate inscription such
as "Resolved to Win" (Quyet Thang.) Subsequent awards
were often shown by pinning medals to the unit flag; the flags
of some combat units are photographed heavily incrusted with medals.
The award documents were often colorful with flags, ornamented
borders, or pictures of the medal. Many were of postcard size
and lithographed. Entries on the documents were often in handwriting
and sometimes typewritten. Following standard Vietnamese practise,
the seals were round and red. The documents reverse might carry
space for entries of additional awards of the medal in its various